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Indigenous Artifcts: Echoes of Our Past and Future

Ellen Goodwin, Artifcts
October 11, 2021

Introduction

Columbus Day is upon us, once more evoking questions about US heritage and how we choose to honor those who contributed to our national heritage. Today more awareness exists about Columbus’ dark history and in several US states and cities Indigenous People’s Day has been created to honor the indigenous history and future of the United States. You’re not here for a history lesson (and we’re not qualified to provide it in this case), but if you’d like to learn more, History.com offers a brief primer on Columbus Day. 

What we can offer is the first of a series of modern and ancient indigenous Artifcts, with useful details about their origins, the concepts and people portrayed, and how and why they were made. As always, we started local, turning to a holy man of Cherokee and Apache heritage and resident of Corpus Christi, Texas, to learn more about indigenous Artifcts he’s been honored with. 

Indigenous "Treasures"

Growing up in Wisconsin farm country, kids would find arrowheads in creek beds and freshly plowed fields. It was not an unusual occurrence in the least, but still special enough to create excitement. Only in preparing this ARTIcle did I learn that indigenous people who come across these artifacts leave the artifacts in place, sprinkle tobacco (“the ancient one,” the oldest of herbals) onto the artifact in blessing, and move on. In modern times, outside of reservation and national park lands, leaving an arrowhead in place would not likely be possible. The better course in these situations is to contact the nearest tribe and share the discovery with them so that they can manage the artifact. 

I share this to emphasize that while a child’s choice to remove an artifact as a treasure is in no way malicious, the act fails to honor the spirit and history of the artifact. Picking up that theme of honoring our past, today we are privileged to share with you two Artifcts from the collection of Larry Running Turtle Salazar. 

In my first 30-minute discussion with Running Turtle I must have encountered themes across a dozen topics I wanted to explore ­about his life and learnings. His casual discussion of his self-described 10-year-pilgrimage into ­­Tibetan Buddhism, including a meeting with His Holiness the Dalai Lama at the Plum Village Monastery in southern France … via an introduction facilitated by Steven Segal … who Running Turtle had studied aikido, his 4th and final blackbelt, with back in the 90s … is an example of the tangents we found ourselves on and that I wished we could explore further. But today, let’s focus on Artifcts! 

Indigenous Artifcts Old and New 

Don’t tease me. Show me the Artifcts

Running Turtle describes himself in part as a wisdom seeker. (In part? He is human after all and lives many realities: artist, healer, parent, entrepreneur, neighbor, author, and so many more.) Through sharing these Artifcts, opening his ceremonies to non-indigenous people, sharing his artistry, he provides us the opportunity to be wisdom seekers, helping to bring rest and truth about the past and future of the indigenous people of the United States. 

Let’s start with the old. The first Artifct is a bust of an indigenous man molded in clay by Running Turtle himself when he was 14 or 15 years old. In this artistic rendering, the indigenous man is crowned with a golden eagle feather ­­war bonnet that is approximately 95 years old. The necklace and pedestal carry with them much longer histories. Read on 

     

Modern monument from a master. The second Artifct is also a bust, but this one was created by internationally known sculptor and bronze artist Dave McGary shortly before his passing in 2013. Read on. 

Closing Thoughts

We encourage you to make the choice to learn more about the indigenous people’s history where you live. Or, if traveling in Texas and by luck it’s the last Saturday of the month, be a guest at Running Turtle’s drum circle and experience what may otherwise feel for most of us like lost heritage. Take an active role in preserving history, too, whether it's yours or that of your local community, country, or far-off places in the world.

What's New at Artifcts
So, You Want to Be a Pro Artifcter? Fresh Tips!
The Arti Community is full of inspiration. From the Artifcts shared to the discussions we have during Arti Events, here are some of the bright ideas circulating lately to help you Artifct.

Location is really flexible. Really.

Because you can write anything you want for "Location" in your Artifct and it’s always private, people use it creatively. A home organizer said her clients use this field to indicate future location of items, e.g. to donate, sell, dispose, or pass along to friends or family. A genealogist said he uses Location to indicate the file path/folder where he stores related materials to a specific Artifct, such as 100s—truly, 100s—of photos and documents.

Voicemails are trending.

You can include voicemails as a featured media file or as a document only you can access. One gentleman told us he’s Artifcted the voicemails he’s been saving for years on his phone, including a message from his daughter before she deployed in the US Navy. Life moments captured forever in the voice of loved ones.

You can of course create your own voice messages to include with Artifcts. Check out our tips if you need help!

Downsizers unite!

The spring moving season has seen a lot of people turn to Artifcts as they prepare to move, relocate, and/or downsize. People are Artifcting items that have sentimental value but either no functional value or not enough space in their new home to make the cut. They keep the memories safe in Artifcts while parting with the 'stuff,' saving them moving costs and precious square footage.

Access our downsizing, moving, and organizing tips here.

The pictured Artifcts below were shared with us by an Arti Community member who is in the midst of his downsizing journey. Click the propeller to view the Artifct.

Artifct of Propellers from Art Arfons' Garage Artifct of Budejovicky Shred Bucket Artifct of 1978 Battlestar Galactica Action Toy

So much better than a baby book.

For our final tip today, we turn to several of our youngest 20-something Arti Community members who have told us that they use Artifcts to capture what they may otherwise forget - a bouquet from a recital, original artwork, that college acceptance letter, and more. Forgetting is not about being a specific age. Life's busy and disorganized. We all forget!

One of our members told us that she wishes her mother had Artifcts when she was younger so she'd have a virtual baby book of all her firsts and special moments. In her words, "Artifct when you're still young so you have a lifetime of memories when you're older."

Below is a snapshot of an Artifct created by our co-founder Ellen related to her high school graduation. One Artifct can cover a lot of ground!

Artifct of Wrightstown High School Graduation materials
 

Happy Artifcting!

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Beauty + Resilience Through Ceramics

Meet Valentina Ferrada Aguilar, a ceramic artist, jewelry designer, and founder of Chercán Project. Valentina is originally from Santiago, Chile, but recently relocated to Washington, DC. She is deeply passionate about creating and teaching and finds daily inspiration in nature’s resiliency and beauty. 

Valentina’s path to becoming a ceramic artist and jewelry designer was anything but typical. She studied journalism for three years but felt something was lacking, so she quit journalism and took up the arts. 

Her first ceramics course under the industrial design program she enrolled in did not go so well. In her own words, “I failed it.”  So what did she do? She registered for a second course, and through this course met a professor and mentor in one who taught her everything she knows. But, maybe more importantly, according to Valentina, “He really inspired me to do what I love.”  

Ceramics flourished from hobby to business as she began experimenting with making smaller ceramic pieces using her father’s old (and very small) kiln. A classmate asked her if she could create some ceramic jewelry, and well, the rest is history. In Valentina’s mind, all these pieces came together at exactly the right time—access to the kiln, a great mentor, and an interested “client.” 

Valentina launched Chercán Project as part of her thesis in 2018. In Spanish, chercán means wren, and Valentina tells the story of a small wren she once observed, working day in and day out to make a nest for her eggs. One day, the nest was destroyed, but that did not stop this wren. She went right back to work, building a new nest.  

"That wren and his story resonated a lot with me because that's exactly how I felt when my mom died a few years ago. I felt like I lost everything, but I got back up for her. Everything that inspires me is also from my mother. For what I saw in me reflected in this resilient wren. It’s beautiful.”  

That wren and his story resonated a lot with me because that's exactly how I felt when my mom died a few years ago. I felt like I lost everything, but I got back up for her

Valentina sees herself in the story of the wren and tries to capture the same resilience in each piece that she designs for the collection. Take her tulip earrings, for example. The tulip comes up each spring after enduring a long, cold winter. It’s resilient. (Fun fact: Valentina’s favorite flowers are tulips, and she had a tulip bouquet at her wedding. You can read more about the earrings here.)  

The collection also includes  sun and moon earrings, representing the resiliency of our universe. According to Valentina, “I am very struck by the fact that everything in our universe is perfectly and calculatedly designed, and everything has a balance, and these earrings represent that, the balance, day and night, Yin and Yang, light and darkness, etc. 

The entirety of her art is in fact a tribute to resilience. As Valentina notes, it takes a lot of practice to make such small pieces. A lot of fails too. “Fail to fail to fail to succeed.” At the start, Valentina would make 100 earrings to achieve 20 perfect earrings. It was that powerful mix of frustrating and rewarding.  

"Ceramics itself is so unpredictable. You have the paint, and the glaze, but you can’t see how it is going to look until it comes out of the kiln. You have to cross your fingers and say, ‘See you in two days!’” 

“I never thought that I’d end up at this point in the project. I always had this feeling that I wanted to create my own business, never thought it would be so soon. I also thought it would be easier. I love it though. I can create my own stuff, and I love it when people see my artwork and they get excited about it, or they can relate to it. I think it’s the most beautiful thing when you give jewelry, and they feel pretty and happy.” 

So where does Valentine see herself in the future? She would love to have her work featured in a museum. She would also love to stay in DC a while and watch her business grow up. If (or when) she goes back to Chile, she would like to teach and one day establish a community arts workshop like the Capitol Hil Arts Workshop (CHAW) on Captial Hill. In her own words, “I’d love to create my own Chilean CHAW. Inspire people of all ages to be artists and help them incorporate the arts into their lives.”  

You can view Valentina’s collection of Artifcts here and more of her work at Chercán Project 

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Mapmaker, Mapmaker, Make Me a Map

Not all maps are created equal, I think on this point we will all soon agree!

Stepping into my converstaion with mapmaker Ken Czarnomski, I thought he was an artist, specializing in maps. And not just any maps. Maps accurate according to GPS, but also humanized by way of incorporating natural landmarks, informal trails (human and animal), and remarkable vistas.

But Ken instead considers himself a “broad stroke naturalist”—meaning that he knows enough to get himself into trouble, so to speak, but is not a specialist in any particular species (insects, grasses, flowers, etc.)—who happens to make maps. Ken borrows from his background in architecture and his learnings in natural sciences to consider for each map he designs what would appeal and engage regular people like us.

The truth is that Ken's maps mean a healthy life for him, too. “If I can’t hike one day, I can still go in, even if at a shuffle rate.” The region of Western North Carolina where Ken resides outside Waynesville makes this statement all the more practical, because the Smoky Mountains are ranked as the most biodiverse in the United States. With over 1,900 species in just a quarter mile stretch, a person can encounter 30 and even upwards of 50 unique species of flowering plants.

That’s lucky since the “what” people are interested in is always a surprise to Ken. For some, it might be flowers. Others may only want to learn more about the trees. Still others are there to learn about mushrooms or salamanders. Western North Carolina accommodates!

And just where did his artistic talents spring from? Ken shared with us that before he developed his cartography skills, he painted. He preferred organic natural themes in watercolor and ink. His largest work was usually 24" x 36," but he has smaller works in sketch pad size. Sometimes he would produce and sell his watercolors while traveling. His passion for art and fieldwork, in fact, used to make him late routinely for his university classes. Tsk, Tsk!

Birth of a Mountain painting from 1969

Later, as Ken turned from his formal career as an architect, his global explorations brought him into the world of maps. Hiking in Ireland back country in 2012, local park rangers and ecologists kept pulling him off course to see areas beyond the usual tourist haunts, and he found himself thinking, “Wouldn't it be great if others had access to the data that could safely lead them to see the world beyond the usual?” So, Ken took a fresh look, with an open mind, at how he could make this happen in the area where he lived, and his first map was born.

 

Just pause a moment and think about the map shown belown. It’s functional and beautiful. Now think about the type of maps you might be more accustomed to when you stay at a resort or hotel or rely on generic maps on your GPS. It’s functional - surely you won’t get lost. But does it grab your attention, invoke curiosity, and invite exploration?

Illustrated map of the Swag, with vignettes of related scenery The Swag, Google Maps street view

Ken’s maps take weeks to layout and still more to illustrate, even with his use of software tools for data and design. Just take a close look at the vignettes embedded in the maps and you’ll understand - there is so much to enjoy!

Painting of the Great Smoky Mountain Elk     Painting of a Summer Garden

Click a vingette to view its Artifct

For each map, Ken goes out to first experience the site and engage with local environmentalists who might guide him to a location or sketch out important features to explore. How else can he produce an experience in 2D that’s not only beautiful, but also savvier than a simple machine or Google Map?

At the end of the day, you might guess correctly, this is a work of passion. Ken’s lucky in this work and plans to continue it for years to come. “I guarantee I’m never bored. I’m always seeing something new."

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